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154             A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
Westerners have rather fondly cherished. With this illusion gone, there is not much left of our knowledge of Islam.
The charge of polygamous practices, so often brought against Islam, so often employed to confuse its issues, is nothing of which Muslims need be afraid. Polygamy, in itself, is not necessarily heinous or immoral; from a psychological and scientific standpoint it may even sometimes be desirable. Anyhow, the percentage of polygamous marriages in the East is really extremely small, no higher than in the West where such unions certainly exist, but under conditions of shame, secrecy and illegality. In any case, public opinion is, nowadays, generally against polygamous unions in Egypt, and if j per cent is my guess for Egypt, 2 per cent is probably true for Persia, and 5 per cent again lor the Indian Muslims.
I remembered that polygamy was widely practised among the ancient peoples and that Muhammed found it as an established institution in Arabia. He did not introduce or propagate it as a new doctrine, but simply accepted the situation and tried to regularize it in an ethical way. I remembered, too, that he found a somewhat barbarous marital condition among the Arabs of those early days, which compared unfavourably with the condition he established later. A man's wives, for instance, might be inherited by his son. He found temporary unions established by custom and forbade them. He found divorce was as easy as drawing water from a well. Though he did not attempt to make it much more difficult, nevertheless he warned his followers that "divorce was the most detestable to God of all permitted things." And he placed it under a code that should be fairer to both parties. It is an open question whether or not this is to be preferred to the legalized hypocrisy of our own divorce code.
The charge that he allowed men to pander to their passions is ludicrous. He imposed fasts upon every one of his followers to assist them to detach themselves from the passions. He banned alcoholic drinks in order to assist their efforts at self-control.
But I wanted to know what Muhammed had really laid down about this question of several marriages, so I asked His Eminence:
"What is the teaching concerning polygamy? What is the actual practice?" His answer was: